The Town of Hempstead’s Board of Appeals on May 23 unanimously denied an application for a mixed-use building on Grand Avenue in Baldwin, with members giving no reason for their opposition to the plan to construct a five-story, 32-unit apartment development on a vacant lot.
A public hearing on the proposal to build retail space on the ground floor and apartments on the upper four — at a site next to the Baldwin Fire Department, just north of Merrick Road — took place on May 9, and the board voted on it two weeks later.
Attorney Christian Browne, who said he had not received the board’s formal decision, told the Herald that he was disappointed not only for his client, Baldwin-based ADZZ Realty Corp. “I’m disappointed for Baldwin,” Browne said. “Our whole premise was, here is this developer who is ready, willing and able to build the kind of development everyone says is needed, wanted, etcetera, in downtown Baldwin.”
Browne had touted the proposed building as a way to jumpstart the long-awaited revitalization of Grand Avenue, an initiative to bring more residents and fill vacant storefronts in the community that has been in the works since 2006.
“This project would be the first step toward ending the blight, and it would end it, or begin to end it, in the relatively near future,” Browne told the Board of Appeals on May 9. “One alternative would be to leave it vacant and wait and hope there’s some master development that occurs, although the track record is quite poor.”
But opponents of the apartment plan, which include the Baldwin Civic Association and some Chamber of Commerce members, have said the building would be out of character with the rest of the neighborhood. Many also opposed it because the developer did not plan to provide on-site parking for the businesses or tenants and would have relied on a town parking lot behind the property.
Karen Montalbano, president of the BCA, called the proposal a “barrier to unifying development” at the May 9 hearing. “Our main street deserves a cohesive project that fits in with the character of the community and has adequate parking,” she said.
When Montalbano learned that ADZZ Realty’s plan had been rejected, she said, “I think the BCA appreciates the zoning board taking into account that proper development has to be done. We have to factor in all things. We have to work together.”
A mixed-use building previously stood at the site, but was demolished after a 2010 fire. Pariq Khan, president of ADZZ, has since been approached about selling the property, but nothing ever materialized.
“We are at the point now where we would like to improve the property and we’re trying to do so in a way that comports with what we understand the vision for the area to be,” Browne said at the May 9 hearing.
The town-backed revitalization initiative, being led by developers Basser-Kaufman, of Woodmere, and the Engel Burman Group, of Garden City, would bring mixed-use buildings with 25,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and roughly 140 apartments units to the downtown area. But Browne said that those projects could take a few years, while Khan’s plan was shovel-ready.
Steven Greenfield, vice president of the BCA, who lives near the vacant lot, said he didn’t think it would be years before Baldwin sees Grand Avenue improved. “I’m confident they’re going to get together with the town and acquire the properties and move forward,” Greenfield said. “The town has expressed — both the new administration and old administration — the desire to see development there, and the community wants it to happen.”
George Bakich, commissioner of the town’s Department of Planning and Economic Development, said that Engel Burman was in the process of seeking funding to get the revitalization started. Additionally, Bakich said, the town last week submitted an application for a state grant that could provide up to $10 million for the project.
“We will be hearing from [the state] by the end of July or beginning of August,” the commissioner said.
Town, county and state elected officials earlier this year announced that Baldwin had been chosen to receive a $1 million grant from the state, on top of $458,000 that was awarded in 2017.
Engel Burman may also seek tax breaks from the town’s Industrial Development Agency, according to Bakich.
As for Khan’s lot, Browne said that the developer is considering his options.
Board of Appeals Chairman David Weiss said he expected Khan to sue the panel because of its decision, but Browne told the Herald that he had not discussed that possibility with his client.
Montalbano and Greenfield said they wanted to see Khan work with Engel Burman. Greenfield said he believed it would be in Khan’s best interest to “meet with Engel Burman and their partners and either become part of the plan, or sell the property and get whatever the fair assessed value for it is.”